A portrait of Louis XV in the Salon de Mercury at Versailles

The Fabric of Design

In their introduction to The Decoration of Houses, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr., write, “In the middle ages, when warfare and brigandage shaped the conditions of life, and men camped in their castles much as they did in their tents, it was natural that decorations should be portable, and that the naked walls of […]

Hotel Russell by Tara Bernerd

The Sensuous Delight of Place

Like Katherine Mansfield’s enigmatic stories, the book Place by Tara Bernerd feels like “a thread with a subtly woven texture embracing ecstatic feeling, sensuous delight.” The quote is from an essay by Angela Smith in a remarkable book titled The Modernist Party. Edited by Kate McLoughlin, the collection of literary explorations surveys the dinner party through […]

Reception at Malmaison in 1802 François Flameng

Transitory Spaces

  The beginning of one of Napoléon Bonaparte’s earliest letters to Joséphine de Beauharnais simply oozes sensuality: “Seven in the morning. I awaken full of you…the memory of yesterday’s intoxicating evening has left no rest to my senses…Sweet and incomparable Joséphine, I draw from your lips, from your heart, a flame which consumes me…A thousand […]

Pandora de Balthazar fine lace curtains

Rewriting the Myth of Pandora

  I’ve always been fascinated by the myth of Pandora because the most widely accepted explanation of this parable—that feminine curiosity “is responsible for all the woes from which mankind suffers”—may not be accurate according to some scholars. The quote, from Frances E. Sabin’s book Classical Myths That Live Today, goes on to say, “Another […]

Antonio Cotti paints "Dante in Verona"

Reading Dante in Milan

  “I’d like that sunny table near the windows under the beautiful mirror,” he says to the hostess at Le Vrai, pointing to the niche set with two café tables, perfect for reading Dante all afternoon. Only a few decades earlier, the waistcoat and watch fob dangling from its pocket would have been out of […]

Karman Deja Vu Nu

Date Night in Florence Italy

  What if the Renaissance master Michelangelo and the Marchesa di Pescara Vittoria Colonna suddenly found themselves revived and in modern day Florence? Though scholars are resolute that their relationship was platonic, that hasn’t stopped plenty of voyeurs from engaging in the art of innuendo that paints them as friends with benefits over the years. […]

The Mad Hatter as seen through a magnifying glass

Through the Looking Glass into Devon

  Through the Looking Glass Into Devon “‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’” “What is the use of a hotel,” thought Timothy Oulton, “without whimsy and curiosities?” With Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as his inspiration, the designer set out to transform the interiors of the Glazebrook House Hotel […]

Three children painted in the Elizabethan style.

Narratives That Illuminate Design

  Narratives That Illuminate Design If you believe that design-centric coffee table books contain nothing more than visual surveys of portfolios, I am out to change your mind today by presenting my choices for narratives that illuminate design. What has prompted this quest? Two intelligently written books in Rizzoli’s holiday catalog—both of which were published […]